Color me awed. Last night, I discovered that the Gennett Mansion, a majestic historic Main Street home in my hometown of Richmond, Ind. hosts a series of absolutely awesome gourmet farm-to-table dinners. I don’t technically live there anymore, but I get back often enough. Seriously, how could I have not known about this before now?!? This was without a doubt the best food I’ve ever eaten in Richmond, and right up there with some of the best food I’ve eaten lately, period.
Here’s the skinny: the highly hospitable Donna and Bob Geddes currently own the Gennett Mansion and live on the third floor. This Colonial Revival mansion was originally built in 1897 as the home of Henry and Alice Gennett, who lived in the house with their family for nearly 40 years. Scratch the surface of Richmond history and you’ll uncover a whole slew of information about the Gennetts and their musical legacy — the family manufactured pianos and later paved the way for new recording technology of their era. Some of the most prominent jazz, blues, gospel and country artists of the early 20th century played and recorded right here in Richmond, including Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael and Gene Autry. The Gennett Mansion is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated Indiana Landmark.
I must have driven past the Gennett Mansion on Main Street a million times over the years without ever thinking too much about it, to be honest. The building used to house offices; I can recall calling on someone there when I was an advertising account executive for the local newspaper back in the early 1990s. Since taking possession of the property in 2006, the Geddes have painstakingly been restoring it to renewed levels of grandeur. Their efforts have paid off handsomely, and Donna and Bob generously open the mansion for tours, weddings, live music concerts, private parties, corporate events and farm-to-table dinners like the one my dad and I had the pleasure of attending last night.
And what a dinner this was. The Geddes collaborate with the talented Chef Jen Ferrell (who in a small-world twist is married to the grandson of my former orthodontist) to create sumptuous menus for these meals featuring locally sourced organic products. Jen grew up in Brown County, earned a degree in environmental management from Indiana University before later easing her way into a cooking career as a personal chef and caterer. She moved to Richmond eight years ago when her husband took a job with Earlham College.
We arrived at 6:30 p.m. and had a chance to settle in and snoop around the house before dinner began. Everything was gorgeous, from the fresh daisy centerpieces to the polished woodwork. The architecture and interior design alone is reason enough to come here. There’s a beautiful Starr piano standing in the main hall, a gleaming wood staircase and elegant furnishings throughout. Our dining room (one of several) was decked out with a cross-beamed ceiling, bowed windows and a fireplace large enough to stand in. It was fun to see how the rich and famous of Richmond must have lived back in the early 1900s.
There were nearly 20 guests for dinner last night, although Donna said they can accommodate up to 40. Donna and Bob did all the serving themselves, and I spied only Chef Jen in the kitchen. This was an ambitious undertaking for just three people to pull off, and they did so flawlessly.
Our first course set the tone for what was to come with a triangular polenta cake and braised local bison from a farm up between Lynn and Winchester, all topped with a roasted red pepper paprika sauce. The bison was flavorful and tender, and the corn cake light, fluffy and steaming hot. Yum.
Next up was a salad of greens from the chef’s very own garden — a mix of torn romaine lettuce, spinach and bok choy with a few shaved purple radish slices on top and a sprinkle of almonds. I’m not crazy about radishes, but these were light, peppery and tasty. The dressing was a white chocolate citrus vinaigrette, which has got to be one of the more unusual combinations I’ve ever tasted. It was really different and delicious; the white chocolate was not at all overpowering, just an interesting and subtle flavor note in the overall fresh mix of ingredients.
To cleanse our palates after the salad, we each received a small glass dish of mint julep sorbet. We’ve been on a big bourbon kick in my house as of late, and this was right up my alley. Made with fresh mint and top-shelf Kentucky bourbon and garnished with a single pink rose petal, it was as tasty for the eyes as it was the mouth. I drank a couple of mint juleps during a tour of Churchill Downs earlier last month and they were cloyingly sweet, but as a little icy treat, the recipe worked perfectly. I even stirred a bit into my iced tea to give it a slight minty kick. Big, big fan of this.
The main course was the real showstopper – beef croustade with roasted asparagus. Here’s the breakdown: take a tender piece of local steak, top it with porter roasted onions and gorgonzola cheese, then wrap the whole thing in phyllo dough like a little beggar’s purse and bake. Oh. My. Goodness. I was so excited to eat this, I forgot all about taking pictures until after I’d already cut in and had to rearrange my plate to get the shot. It was soooooo delicious, like a beef Wellington with phyllo instead of puff pastry. I thought my dad’s eyes were going to roll back in his head, he was so happy when he took a bite of this. The asparagus on the side was perfectly tender. We also received a small basket of fragrant rosemary yeast rolls and a compound herb butter to spread on top.
Prior to bringing out the dessert, Donna served some wonderful coffee she’d brought back from a recent trip to Costa Rica (in addition to her Gennett responsibilities, she also works as an international flight attendant!), along with a cute trio of accoutrement to dude up our cups. What a whimsical idea to stir in raw sugar, chocolate chips and fresh whipped cream!
Dessert was a picture-perfect slice of lattice-top sour cherry pie (I overheard Chef Jen saying the cherries had come from Wesler’s Orchard) and a little scoop of housemade coconut ice cream sitting pretty beside it. Wow. I couldn’t imagine a better end to a better meal. Chef Jen made the rounds to each table during dessert, I’m sure collecting compliments all along the way. She certainly got quite a few from us. This meal blew my mind.
Last night’s dinner carried a per-person price tag of $38, which seemed extremely reasonable for the amount and quality of food we received. Be aware — there is no alcohol here, only water, coffee and iced tea, but diners are perfectly welcome to bring their own wine or beer.
These Farm to Table dinners happen once a month or so as scheduling allows; follow the Gennett Mansion Facebook page for updates. I, for one, am thrilled to know these events are taking place in my little old hometown, and plan to make a return trip as soon as new details are posted. If you’re up for a memorable fine dining experience in a beautiful historic setting, get your reservation in for one of these dinners post-haste.
For more info about the Gennett Mansion, visit www.gennettmansion.com.